Two weeks from now, Busch Stadium will have already been packed (and unpacked) for the first of no fewer than 81 occasions in 2017, and the defending champion Cubs and all-of-the-sudden-underdog Cardinals will be one-nineteenth of the way through their nineteen scheduled meetings for this season.
Amidst all of the anticipation surrounding Major League Baseball’s Opening Day (or Opening Night, in case of the Cardinals), it’s forgotten that the ever-so-exciting Minor League Baseball season will kick off the same week.
And so, we’ll preview a bit of the excitement, leading off with the Class-A Peoria Chiefs and High-A Palm Beach Cardinals.
Seventeen Cardinals prospects to keep tabs on in 2017
2016 overview: 73-66 (.525) — first-half division winner; fell in two games to the Clinton LumberKings in Round 1 of the Midwest League Playoffs
The Chiefs are likely to open the 2017 season with some of the organization’s most underrated, yet promising prospects.
On the pitching front, Peoria’s starting staff is projected to be led by a fun pair of right-handers: Ronnie Williams and Jake Woodford.
Williams, the tenth-ranked Viva El Birdos prospect, split time between State College and Peoria in 2016 and posted a 3.40 ERA over a combined 82 innings across thirteen starts, six of them coming at Peoria, where Williams scuffled.
In 35 2⁄3 frames with the Chiefs, Williams was rocked for seventeen earned runs — seven home runs — and issued seventeen walks; he allowed eight total home runs and walked 24 batters during the season as a whole. His final two starts with Peoria showed some improvement, as Williams logged 13 1⁄3 innings, allowed five earned runs, and punched out nine batters.
At just 21 years old, there is more than enough time for Williams to establish himself at Class-A before moving him up the ladder.
Woodford had a very respectable 2016 campaign, spread out over 21 starts with the Chiefs. In 108 2⁄3 innings, Woodford maintained a 6.79 K/9 and a 3.99 FIP.
Viva El Birdos Cardinals Top Prospects: #16 Jake Woodford
A mid-season promotion to Palm Beach seems inevitable for Woodford, especially if he replicates his 2016 performance. With a trio of flamethrowers above him, however, and - like Williams, with age certainly on his side (Woodford turned 20 years old in October), Woodford will likely continue to ferment with the Chiefs.
On the position-player side, it’s possible that shortstop Delvin Perez could start the year with the Chiefs; if he doesn’t, he’ll be there before the summer ends.
Perez, a 2016 first-round selection by the Cardinals and already ranked as the sixth-best prospect by VEB, slashed .294/.352/.393 and stole twelve bases in 43 games last year with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals.
2016 overview: 58-79 (.423); did not qualify for Florida State League Playoffs
Palm Beach, led by three electric arms and cast of speedy position players, is the Cardinals’ affiliate I’m most excited to watch in 2017.
Sandy Alcantara, Dakota Hudson, and Junior Fernandez, ranked as the Cardinals’ sixth, ninth, and tenth-best prospects by MLB.com, are all expected to be promoted to High-A Palm Beach to start the year, as MiLB reporter Sam Dykstra noted in his very informative ‘Toolshed’ article.
With strikeouts galore, Alcantara dazzled with 153 punchouts and a .225 batting average against in 122 2⁄3 innings in 2016. Alcantara pitched well enough to receive an invite to Spring Training, and he displayed that fire with six whiffs in eight frames.
Here’s an excerpt from the red baron’s story on Alcantara:
Fernandez, a hard-throwing, right-handed, 20-year-old, is very comparable to Alcantara. Though the strikeout rate isn’t as high (a 9.46 K/9 and a 5.15 for Fernandez), the pitch arsenals are similar, and the pleasing results are there, too.
The red baron drew the comparisons here:
Drafted in the first round of last year’s draft, Hudson appeared in the Texas League playoffs with Double-A Springfield last fall as a reliever, after boasting a 0.68 ERA and nineteen strikeouts in 13 1⁄3 relief innings between the GCL and Palm Beach after beng drafted back in June.
We visit the red baron once again:
As far as the aforementioned speedsters go, Magneuris Sierra and Eliezer Alvarez will begin their years with Palm Beach, with Sierra being the standout as the season commences.
I checked out Sierra earlier this offseason:
Sierra and Alvarez appeared in big-league Spring Training and were recently reassigned to Palm Beach, where they will they continue to run wild like they do best. As noted, Sierra stole a staggering 31 bases last year, and Alvarez eclipsed that, swiping 36 in 51 attempts.